The following tells the story of a triangle and a sculpture. The triangle is the 13,14,15 triangle that defines the prism which features on the Reloading Humanism Main Menu Page. Meanwhile the sculpture is Saint Vitus in a Vat which be seen free of charge in Room 2 of Museum Krems. As has been shown by Alexander Curtis, the triangle gives the original ground plan of the sculpture and knowledge of this fact was most likely confined to the burgesses who ran the town of which Saint Vitus is the patron saint. During the Second World War this sculpture was one of thousands of works of art that, despite being stored in a salt-mine, was very nearly blow up and then came worryingly close to being deported to Russia. Although the story is exciting and of interest in its own right (and as listed below has been filmed on two occassions), like the Message from Willendorf above, there are ramifications that reach out to us today. These come in the form of questions which ask: how would we have behaved back then? Would we have been collaborators, opportunists, profiteers or opponents? From this there is then the further question of how do we fit in with the forces at work in the world today and are we aware of, or blind to what is going on?
The 13,14,15 triangle is the second smallest example of a scalene triangle without a right angle whose sides are all a whole number of units in length. Named after Hero of Alexandria (10-85 AD), such triangles are known as Heronian Triangles.
In his Metrica, Hero surveys the ways by which the areas of plane figures may be ascertained and in Book I, Proposition 5, considers a 13,14,15 scale triangle. Constructing a line that is perpendicular to the side of 14 units and which intersects with the point a, on the opposite corner, he shows that such a line has a length of 12 units. From this he then goes on to establish that the area of the triangle is 84 units. As 8 + 4 = 12 and twelve is not only the length of the perpendicular that goes through point a but is also the number of people featured at Reloading Humanism, the triangle, its history and its occurrence in the composition of a statue of Saint Vitus held by Museum Krems, are taken as an emblem of the site and its mission. Returning to this history, when the Greek mathematical tradition came to an end, Hero’s Metrica was lost and for centuries, the triangle was unknown in the West.
Yet it was preserved in the Arabic tradition and was discussed by authors such as Thabit ibn Qurrah al-Harrani in his tahrir kitab al mafrudat or Book of Assumptions. See archive.org for the kitab al-mutawassitat, owned by Columbia University in which Thabit’s tract is to be found on pages 256-253 (ff. 112r-115v).
During the thirteenth century, the triangle was brought back to Europe by Leonardo of Pisa (circa 1170-1240), otherwise known as Fibonacci. Able to read and speak Arabic, Fibonacci was taught mathematics using Arabic numerals and in his Liber abaci performed the hugely important task of extolling the virtues of the new system to a western readership. Although Greek letters topped by a bar, are handy, like the numbers 1-9, the number ten was represented by a letter, so that there was no symbol for zero. When written vertically, there was thus no automatic ordering of the decimal components of a number into columns of units, tens, hundreds and thousands. In the Indian system however, via the sign that denoted absence, this ordering immediately springs into being and opens up new ways in which numerical symbols can be manipulated, allowing operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and long division to be carried out without the use of an abacus.
In geometry, where the Euclidian tradition was concerned with generalised, abstract deduction that at first sight has no practical application, Fibonacci was concerned with returning to the older traditions summarised by Hero of Alexandria, on which surveying and astronomy were based. To this effect, his intention was to show how the introduction of Arabic numerals could turn geometry turn into a powerful tool of immense practical significance. Despite the introduction of Arabic numerals, in mathematical textbooks, plane figures whose sides were formed by whole numbers were and still are popular. In his De practica geometrie Fibonacci discusses the 13,14,15 triangle ten times, while after him, in his Trattato d’Abaco, the artist and mathematician Piero della Francesca (1412-1492), devoted 20 exercises to it. Following in the footsteps of Piero della Francesca was his townsman and fellow mathematician, Luca Pacioli (circa 1456-1517), whose De summa arithmetica, geometrica, proportioni e proportionalita of 1494, had 23 exercises that were concerned with the 13,14,15 triangle. In both of these works, Piero della Francecsa and Pacioli were, like Fibonacci, concerned with showing the practical uses of geometry and how through the quantification of what was known, unknown quantities could be deduced.
A self-portrait by Piero della Francesca, where following the convention of the time, the artist looks out at the viewer. Detail from The Meeting of Solomon and Sheba from The Legend the True Cross, painted in fresco in the Apsis of the Cathedral at Arezzo
Among the exercises on the 13,14,15 triangle given by Pacioli, two are concerned with columns which, like the prism on the Reloading Humanism Main Menu, have the triangle as a cross-section. Significantly however, in both of these exercises, as well as in all the other examples referred to above, the circle is missing.
Continuing in the tradition of borrowing examples, in his later Libellus de quinque corporibus regularibus, Piero della Francesca reuses 15 of the exercises from his own Trattato d’Abaco, whilst introducing seven new ones. Piero’s Libellus was written in Italian and then translated into Latin, the language of humanism. In the Ducal Library at Urbino, Pacioli then translated the Latin text back into Italian and the work was printed by Pacioli’s printer in Venice. At the same time, a second book by Pacioli was printed. This was his Divinia Proportione of 1509 which was likewise printed in Venice by Paganni. For unknown reasons, at some stage Piero’s Libellus was inserted into Pacioli’s Divinia Proportione. That this was not originally intended and was the result of unforeseen, irregular circumstances is shown by the fact that in the copies of Divinia Proportione that have survived, the ordering of the different parts is inconsistent, often illogical and in some cases is nothing less than utterly careless. While none of the texts by Pacioli in Divinia Proportione mention the 13,14,15 triangle, it occurs 22 times in Piero’s Libellus and it is with an exercise on the 13,14,15 triangle with which Piero concludes the work.
Although the mathematical operations are simple, this last exercise is a tour de force that, invoking the circle enclosed in the triangle and showing it to have a radius of four, in its layered complexity surpasses all other treatments. In an article on the art and mathematics of Piero della Francesca, Alexander Curtis has shown that where Piero’s Trattato d’Abaco fits into the tradition of showing the practical uses of geometry his Libellus is a very different undertaking, with the last exercise hinting at the long sought link between Piero’s art and his mathematics.
Saint Vitus in a Vat, anonymous, painted and gilded wood, circa 1520
Moving North to Krems, the sculpture of Saint Vitus in a Vat is dated to around 1520 and shows the Saint in a vat of boiling oil. Praying to God, Vitus was rescued by a swarm of angels who carried him up to Heaven. Although the cauldron is supported by two legs at the front and by a column at the back, Alexander Curtis has shown that it originally had a third leg, which was later removed so that, supported by the newly added column, the work could be inserted into a niche or placed closer to a wall than was hitherto possible.
The column raises the back of the statue upwards so that at the front it leans forward, suggesting that the new position was above eye level, where it would have been advantageous for the work to be inclined towards the viewer. This in turn suggests that the work was originally placed at eye level in a manner that allowed it to be seen from all sides, with the attention given to the muscles of the Saint’s back confirming this.
The two front legs are markedly asymmetrical and if their outermost points are connected and joined to the point where the third leg will have touched the ground, a 13,14,15 triangle will be described. Meanwhile the circle contained by the triangle defines the narrowest part of the cauldron’s neck.
This suggests that the 13,14,15 triangle was a deliberate and integral part of the composition with the intention being, through the mathematical defining of space and the symbolism of numbers, to create a sacred space in which the laws of space and time could be thought of as being suspended. As shown by art historians and supported by the article by Alexander Curtis on Piero della Francesca, geometrical constructions occur in a number of works by the artist and were a trait of some of the art produced during the Renaissance. In such cases, the occult mathematics is a shared secret that is designed to create a bond between the select group of individuals who were responsible for the running of the community in question.
Pacioli teaching geometry as show at the beginning of his Summa
Although the 13,14,15 triangle may well have arrived in Krems as an immaterial import in the mind of an artist or mathematician, it may equally have arrived in the form of Pacioli’s Summa which like Divina Proportione had been printed in Venice by Paganni. In the history of finance, Pacioli’s Summa is of singular importance as it was in his Summa that double-entry book-keeping was first explained and disseminated to a European readership. Double-entry booking enabled merchants to keep a better track on what was going on in their various dealings and the section of Pacioli’s Summa that dealt with double-entry book-keeping was freely copied and translated. After spreading throughout Europe, the English translation made its way to the Americas, so that today Pacioli is known as „The Father of Accounting“ as, although he did not invent double-entry book-keeping, he understood its importance, made it accessible and thus revolutionised business. In the Summa, the 13,14,15 triangle occurs 37 times. Nevertheless, in none of these instances does the circle of radius four occur.
Details of a drawing dated 1529, by Wolf Huber showing Krems and Stein and the recently built bridge over the River Danube
Situated at the intersection of the East-West Danube trade route and the North-South, overland route that connected Prague, Vienna and Venice, during the Renaissance, the twinned towns of Krems and Stein were a major centre of commerce. Testifying to the cultural connections linking North and South, during the period, the wealthy citizens of Krems and Stein would send their sons to study in Padua and Venice and works of Italian literature and philosophy were known and read. In such an environment, it is difficult to imagine that Pacioli’s Summa was not known in its unabridged and original form. In the wake of the Summa, knowledge of the 13,14,15 triangle together with its enclosed circle of radius can be assumed to have made its way to Krems in the form of Piero’s Libellus bound in with Pacioli’s Divina Proportione. Today, the National Library in Vienna holds copies of both of Pacioli’s printed works and although their provenance is unknown, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that they and other copies were in Austria during the Renaissance. For the Viennese copy of Divina Proportione see: digital.onb.ac.at. This begins with the first 55 execrcises of Piero’s Libellus which are interrupted by the first part of Pacioli’s Divina Proportione, before being allowed to continue until its end, where there then follows the rest of Divina Proportione. For the copy of the Summa held by the Museo Galileo, see: bibdigmuseogalileo.it.
In legend, Saint Vitus is said to have cured the son of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian of what must have been an epileptic malady, for later the Saint was invoked in cases of epilepsy and during the Middle Ages, was also invoked in cases of dancing mania. He is thus the patron saint of dancers and of apothecaries and due to this connection with medicine and healing, it can be assumed that the sculpture, Saint Vitus in a Vat, was made for the Burgesses‘ Hospice in Krems where the sick and infirm were cared for. This assumption is justified by the fact that on the one hand, the Hospice Church is dedicated to the Saint Phillip and Jacob and not to Saint Vitus, whilst on the other, had the work been commissioned by the Church, it would still belong to the Church today. As hospice property, when the hospice was dissolved in 1871, ownership of the work the work was transfered to the town so that it must have been commissioned by the burgesses for the hospice, even though it is not mentioned in any surviving records.
In the Hospice complex, on the ground floor, between the rest of the Hospice and the Church, there was a large function suite with a vaulted ceiling supported by two columns. Today this space is open at each end so as to make an arcade. Originally however, this space was a closed space and as it was the only representative room in the complex, it can be assumed that this was where the sculpture originally stood.
Everyday, people going from the hospice to the church will have passed through this room. One can therefore suggest that the work was placed in between the two columns, so as to face those coming from the hospice as they made their way towards the Church.
Twenty years after the hospice was dissolved, it can be assumed that, as the patron saint of the town, the sculpture of Saint Vitus in a Vat was among the items displayed in the newly established, Krems Museum. This was founded in 1890. For the most part housed on the first floor of the former Dominican Church, the new museum opened its doors on 4th October, 1891. Below the museum, in the nave of the church, separated by an-between floor that has since been removed and by walls that seperated the nave from the asiles on both sides, there was the fire brigade.
A fire brigade vehicle for transporting firefighters and hoses outside the entrance to the Dominican Church in Krems
While the fire brigade used the main entrance to the church, access to the museum and the town’s theatre, was via the South side, with museum vistors turning left and visitors for the theatre turning right. The museum space thus began in the space where the Wiener Schmidt frescos may still be seen to this day. Whilst clearly showing the glass cases lent by the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna from Schloß Ambras to the new museum and with many Museum Krems exhibits being recognizable, photographs of the museum on the first floor do not show any sculptures and so it would appear to be that, from 1891-1943, it was on the ground floor, below the Wiener Schmidt frescos, that Saint Vitus in a Vat was displayed.
Three years after the museum opened, Saint Vitus in a Vat was listed as an item in the museum’s first inventory. In 1911, reflecting the fact that it was one of the museum’s longest held items, the work was assigned the inventory number 004. Four years later, in a report on art and architecture in the region, the work was announced to a wider audience as, „a Gothic Saint Sebastian Statue“. In 1943, as the tide of war began to turn against Nazi Germany and Allied bombers were able to reach Krems, the sculpture was moved to Schloß Baumgarten. This is a Baroque pocket palace built on the slopes overlooking Mautern. Along with Saint Vitus in a Vat there were 6 other sculptures and 13 large boxes containing diverse items, all from the municipal museum. From the town’s archives there were 18 boxes of documents, 2 boxes of engravings and 12 boxes of books and codices from the nearby Abbey of Göttweig.
During the summer of 1943, the director of the Institüt für Denkmal Pflege (IDP), or Institute for the Conservation of Monuments, Dr. Herbert Seibel had been scouting the Austrian countryside for places where art could be safely stored. Investigating the salt mines of Salzkammergut, he found that a mine at Altaussee was not only extensive but also offered perfect storage conditions. Accordingly, he arranged for important works of art from small museums, churches and monasteries in Austria to be stored in the mine. The first of these items were the sculptures by Lorenz Luchsperger from the cathedral at Wienerneustadt. These arrived in Altaussee on the 25th and 26th August with a second delivery of items following in the middle of October.
On 28th October 1943, the director of Krems Museum, Hans Plöckinger, entrusted the IDP with two boxes of manuscripts from Göttweig Abbey (Ma I, Ma II), five boxes of mixed items from Krems Museum (Mu 4, 8, 9, 10, 11) and three „gothic“ statues all of which had been in storage at Schloß Baumgarten. The three sculptures were Saint Vitus in a Vat, Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Margret and the Dragon, with the latter two both having „KREMS“ daubed in rough and ready black letters on the back.
This third delivery arrived in Altaussee at the beginning of November and was followed by a forth and final delivery in January, 1944. At the beginning of November, the arrival of the Krems pieces from Schloß Baumgarten was recorded and the list drawn up, when compared with the list of items that remained in Schloß Baumgarten, shows that the box numbers missing on the palace list, are the boxes that had been sent to Altaussee. Thus here again, Saint Vitus‘ presence in Mautern can only be inferred indirectly from the Altaussee list of items that had arrived from Schloß Baumgarten. Assigned Altaussee inventory numbers, the three sculptures from Krems (66, 67, 68), along with the boxes from Göttweig (79, 80) and Krems (76, 77, 78, 81, 82) were deposited in a specially adapted chamber known as the Springerwerk. A plan drawn up on 5th November 1943 shows the locations of the boxes and of Saint Vitus in a Vat (66).
On the plan, the entrance to the chamber is at the bottom, with the boxes from Krems and Göttweig being located at the opposite end and with the Saint John the Evangalist and Saint Margret and the Dragon being presumably stored in the area that on the plan that is missing as their inventory numbers (68 and 67) are missing. On the otherside of the storage shelf on which the sculpture of Saint Vitus was placed, there were life-size wooden sculptures of apostles and angles made by Lorenz Luchsperger for the cathedral at Wienerneustadt.
From the plan and from a photograph taken by the IDP, a view of the Springerwerk can be reconstructed with the Krems and Göttweig boxes being at the end and the Luchsberger sculptures on the bottom shelf with sheets of cardboard laid on top so as to protect them from dust. On the drawing, the position of Saint Vitus in a Vat is on the otherside of the first bay on the left.
When word of the mine’s suitability as a place of storage reached the management of the Führersammlung, the growing collection of art that Hitler was determined would one day outstrip the Louvre and the Ufficci, the remaining space was reserved for the new museum, with the IPD managing the collection under contract and passing the costs on to the Führersammlung. Other museums in Austria, such as the Kunsthisorisches Museum in Vienna and the National Library, therefore deposited their works in a salt mine at Lauffen not far away. Logistically, Lauffen was easier to get to and works intended for Altaussee were transported first by train to Bad Aussee and from there by lorry over the Pötschen Pass into the Altaussee basin and then up to the mine. In winter, for this last leg of the journey, instead of lorries, once British POW’s hd cleared away snow, a caterpillar-tracked transporter designed for the eastern front was used to carry works the up through the woods. Later on, when fuel became scarce, carts pulled by oxen were used. Today the caterpillar-tracked transporter used at Altausee can be seen at the Museum of Military History in Vienna (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum).
Along with the incoming art works, there were also teams of art historians and restorers who, working in specially adapted galleries, documented the incoming works and restored the damage inflicted by transport. Among the experts draughted in, was Hermann Michael, a mineralogist from the Museum of Natural History in Vienna who was reponsible for the practical aspects of storage. Another expert was the chemist Maximillian Eder who during the summer of 1944 wrote, The Deposition Ballard, in which the humerous aspects of daily life in the mine are recorded in rhyming couplets.
From the autumn of 1943, right up into the last months of the war, the steady stream of art works arriving for the Führersammlung never stopped. Among the late arrivals were Hubert and Jan van Eyck‘ The Adoration of the Lamb and Michaelangelo’s Bruges Madonna. Although the van Eyck altarpiece had been smuggled to Vichy France, it was handed over to Germany on special orders. Stored in Schloss Neuschwanstein, the work was only moved to Altaussee when allied bombers were able to reach into the heart of Bavaria.
Likewise coming from Belgium, was Michaelangelo’s Bruges Madonna which had taken from the Church of our Lady and loaded onto onto a Red Cross truck at the beginning of September 1944. As the land route out of the city was blocked by the advancing Allies, the masterpiece languished in a dock before leaving the country by ship, arriving in Altausee on 6th October to join the van Eyck altarpiece which had arrived only shortly before.
In his memoirs, Emmerich Pöchmüller, the director of the mines and salt-works in Altausseer Land, wrote: „Inextinguishable were the impressions gathered whilst doing my rounds through the tunnels and galleries of the mine. One opened a door and suddenly stood one stood face to face … with an image that one had known since childhood but always separated by a distance in the impersonal context of a museum. Instead of being at arm’s reach, the pieces of the Gent Altarpiece were there to be held and looked at individually and wherever one went there were beautiful things, candelabra’s, jugs, and fine furniture, with magnificent sculptures looking down from the shelves. It was a unique, magnificent atmosphere and whoever saw the mountain’s treasures was moved and captivated by the spell“.
With a stable temperature of around 8°C and a humidity of 75% that hardly varies, the mine offers perfect conditions for the storage of artefacts made of organic materials and it was thought, would be safe from bombs. Yet a few months later, the serene security of this subterreanian world suddenly began to dissolve.
19th March, 1945: Hitler issues the „Nero Decree“ which states that, „all military transport and communication facilities, industrial establishments and supply depots, as well as anything else of value within Reich territory, which could in any way be used by the enemy immediately or within the foreseeable future for the prosecution of the war, will be destroyed“
30th March, 1945: the last train load of art for the Führersammlung is evacuated from Vienna and 36 hours later arrives at Bad Aussee where the contents are loaded onto lorries for the journey to Altaussee
10th April, 1945: in accordance with orders given by the Gauleiter or governor of the region, August Eigruber, four crates are delivered and deposited deep inside the mine.
Stamped with the warning „Careful, marble, do not drop„, the delivery and its deposition is overseen by Eigruber’s number two, Johann Glinz and everything about the delivery is unusual
13th April, 1945: on the day the Red Army enters Vienna, Glinz and a second delivery of crates arrives at the mine and the crates are likewise transported deep inside. Meanwhile at Bad Ischl where Pöchmüller has his office, Hellmuth von Hummel arrives. Von Hummel is the personal assistant of Hilter’s general secretary, Martin Bormann. To the assembled managerment of the saltworks and the collections stored at Altaussee, von Hummel announces that the crates contain bombs and that following the Nero Decree to the letter, Eigruber’s instructions are for the mine and everything in it to be destroyed. The secret of the crates aired, heated discussions break out among the management about what is to be done and how in this case, the Nero Decree is to be intpretated. Aware that the war will soon be over, von Hummel does not committ himself to explicitly endorsing any particular course of action other than that some form of detonation should take place. At Pöchmüller’s insistance, he calls Berlin and receives confirmation that the art works stored in the mine are not to be destroyed. Pöchmüller and Michael agree that destroying the entrances is a viable way of preventing complete destruction, with Michael advising Pöchmüller to downplay the technical difficulties involved. Von Hummel then leaves as he has money and gold that is to be hidden in the region
14th April, 1945: Pöchmüller tries to contact Eigruber
16th April, 1945: Pöchmuller travels to Linz and failing to get an appointment with Eigruber leaves a message. Pöchmuller is informed by telephone that plans for the mine’s destruction are unchanged. Pöchmüller and Michael along with Mayerhoffer, who like Pöchmüller is a part of the management of the salt works, discuss the pratical details of how Eigruber’s plan can be subverted and complete destruction prevented
17th April, 1945: Travelling again to Linz and this time getting through to Eigruber, Pöchmüller requests permission to destroy the entrance to the mine first so that when the main charges go off, destruction will be more effective. Eigruber dismissively tells Pöchmüller to do what he thinks best – just as long as the mine and its contents are destroyed
18th April, 1945: not in senior management and not at the meeting in Bad Ischl, Altaussee mine manager Otto Höger, is instructed by Pöchmüller to draw up plans for a detonation of the mine entrances at six different places that will seal the mine. Far from simple, this involves a condiderable amount of technical planning and calculation
19th April, 1945: Head of Security, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, is in Berlin for the last time with the intention of convincing Hitler to make peace with the Americans. Like Hitler, Kaltenbrunner is from Linz and instead of addressing matters at hand, the Führer leads Kaltenbrunner into a small room and shows him a model of the new Linz that is being planned, together with the new museum. He then says: „My Dear Kaltenbrunner, if the two of us were not convinced that after the final victory, we would together rebuild Linz, then I would shoot myself today“. As attempts at serious conversation are futile, Kaltenbrunner takes leave of the Führer and visiting Himmler, is entrusted with power over Ausria and Bavaria should communications within the Reich breakdown
20th April, 1945: Höger is informed of Eigruber’s orders to completely destroy the mine and its contents is told of the real nature of Pöchmüller’s plan to seal the entrances and agrees to co-operate
22nd April, 1945: a telegram is sent from Berlin in which it is expressly stated that only the entrance to the mine is to be destroyed not the mine and its contents
23rd April, 1945: armed with pistols, Seibel and Siebler begin to remove the important works from the Führersammlung, such as Vermeer’s The Painter in his Studio, to places deeper within the mine. Important Austrian works entrusted to the IPD at Seibel’s initiative are moved to locations outside the mine, such as the local church and vicarage. Unaware of the measures to save the mine being taken at management level, among the miners rumors are rife and although it is agreed that action must be taken, no consenus is reached. This is partly because the once tightly-knit band is divided by differences of opinion, with some miners being active Nazis, such as mine officer, Anton Kain, who is head of the Altaussee NSPD and a friend of Eigruber’s, whilst others have contact with the resistance
24th April, 1945: Eder also becomes involved helping move important works to safer places. To maintain secrecy, Seibel rejects the idea of involving the mine workforce
26th April, 1945: to speed up the practical implementation of the detonation of the mine entrances, the miners work in double shifts with some 500 holes being bored over the course of 140 working hours
27th April, 1945: telephone lines to Berlin are no longer working. Seibel makes hasty arrangements for 92 items entrusted to the IDP to be moved to the mine at Lauffen and at 3.00 p.m. two lorries leave Altaussee. Among the items is the St. Florian Altapiece by Albrecht Altdorfer and some of the Luchsperger sculptures from Wienerneustadt.
Due to a misunderstanding, the first lorry drives through Lauffen and only stops at Bad Ischl some four Kilometres further on. To prevent separation, the second lorry and follows and as the day is drawing to a close, it is decided to leave the delivery at a tavern in the care of an employee of the Natural History Museum in Vienna. This is the Gasthof Engljähringer, in the Grazer Straße 39 and the items are piled up on the veranda
Around this time, the three sculptures from Krems Museum are sent to the Parish Church at Bad Aussee and presumably in the same consignment, the remaining Luchsperger sculptures from Wienerneustadt, these latter being deposited in the Hospice Church in Bad Aussee. While the inventories testifying to these depositions only begin in January 1946, the nature of later events mean that the transfers to Bad Aussee must have taken place at some time before 5th May, 1945
A drawing by local artist Irmgard Schlömmer, showing the Marktplatz at Bad Aussee. On the right there is the Hospice Church and behind it, the tower of the Parish Church
28th April, 1945: for the 92 items at Bad Ischl, neither vehicles nor staff are available and the consignment remains at the tavern. In Bad Ischl Pöchmüller and Michael receive a representative of the NSPD from Vienna, who brings in writing the telegramm from 22nd April. Pöchmüller issues Höger with written instructions to remove the bombs
29th April, 1945: Hitler dictates his will wherein it is stated that: „the paintings acquired over the years were never bought for my private consumption but were always collected so as to enlarge a gallery in my hometown of Linz on the Danube. That this be realised is my deepest wish“
30th April, 1945: Hitler shoots himself and his mistress. Either tipped off by an informat or as result of tapping the mine’s telephones, Glinz has suspicions that sabotage plans may be afoot. Appearing in Högler’s office, he threatens the mine director with a pistol, telling him that the detonation team is already on its way from Innsbruck and will arrive in two days‘ time. He then informs Pöchmüller that Eigruber refuses to accept the authority of the telegram as it was only signed by Bormann and not by Hitler himself. Glinz then has four of the bombs moved to a place in the mine which can be reached from a lower level. This means even if the mine were to be sealed the four bombs could still be accessed from below. On his way back to Linz however, Glinz is involved in a car crash. Taken to hospital in Gmunden, he is incapcitated and plays no further role
1st May, 1945: Högler finds the mine guarded by solders who control everyone who enters and leaves the mine
2nd May, 1945: two miners enter the mine at night and establish that the eight mysterious boxes do indeed contain bombs. These were dropped over Linz by American bombers and failed to detonate. Each bomb weighs 1,100 lbs/500 Kg
3rd May, 1945: Högler is informed of the whereabouts of the bombs and told that according to information supplied by the resistance, the arrival of the detonation team is immeninent. With Pöchmüller absent in Bad Ischl, Höger, Michael and others consider moving the bombs so that the sabotgae plan can, if necessary be effectively executed. Michael advises that the situation be explained to the miners and a course of action agreed upon
At midday it is decided that the bombs are to be guarded by the miners and the detonation team prevented from performing its task. In addition, it is agreed that support should be obtained from Kaltenbrunner who is in Altaussee with his mistress, the Countess of Westarp, who has recently borne him twins
Arriving in Altaussee late in the afternoon, Kaltenbrunner is asked by a miner who knows him for help and at 18.00 p.m. Höger is ushered in and told by Kaltenbrunner that the bombs are to be removed and that the detonation team will be stopped
At 20.00 p.m., on Höger’s orders, a team of miners is allowed by the war-tired and unfed guards to enter the mine
Alerted by an informant, at 11.30 p.m. Eigruber sends two soldiers to the mine and two to arrest Kaltenbrunner. Whether those sent to the mine, perform their duty and encounter the armed resistence of miners is unknown. At the Villa Rosa, those sent to arrest Kaltenbrunner are seen off when the head of the state security appears with his overpowering presence and SS guards
Around 00.30 a.m. there is a heated telephone conversation between Eigruber and Kaltenbrunner which is overheard by the switchboard operator. At 00.50 a.m. the bombs are outside the mine but are not otherwise disposed of
4th May, 1945: by the early morning the bombs have been hidden in the woods at the foot of the mountain and the same day work begins on the final preparations for the detonation of the entranceways. This takes 20 hours
5th May, 1945: early in the morning Kain, who may have overheard Högler giving the orders for the bombs to be removed and given Glitz the tip, is arrested by members of the resistence. Later during the day, the entrances to the mines at Altaussee and Lauffen are detonated
7th May, 1945: the American Third Army reaches the Pötschen Pass that leads into the Altaussee basin. Accompagnied by local guides, Kaltenbrunner trecks up into the mountains of Totengebirge in order to make himself scare for a while. The service rendered by the guides may be a repayment for his having helped save the mine. Kaltenbrunner’s plan is to later offer his services to the Americans in the coming war against Bolshavism
8th May, 1945: the Americans arrive in Altaussee at around 15.00 p.m. and at around 17.45, commanded by Major Ralph Pearson, two jeeps and a truck of soldiers approach the mine. With Pöchmüller in Bad Ischl, Michael is the only person who speaks English and claims sole credit for having saved the mine and its contents. Although Michael is an NSDP member, he claims his joining the party was a matter of duress and to substantiate his claim he is also member of the resistance group „Salzberg“ and has a card that has been backdated to 1944. Taking this at face value, Pearson places Michael in charge of the art and artefacts in the mine. As an NSDP member and with no one to speak up for him, Höger is denounced and arrested
9th May, 1945: Germany surrenders unconditionally, with it already being agreed by the Allies and Russia that Germany and Austria are to be made into occupied territories that are to be divided between England, France, the United States and the Soviet Union, with the four nations independently administering the areas allocated to them. Informing Seibel and Sieber that he is now in charge, Michael orders the two to return the works of art secluded two weeks before in various locations. With the exception of the consignments at Bad Ischl and Bad Aussee, this is carried out. Michael also demands from Seibel the inventories of the mine’s contents. Although incomplete, these list thousands of works, including the works entrusted to the IDP by Krems Museum and are the only available record of what is in the mine
Over the course of the next few days, Pöchmüller repeately tries, unsuccessfully, to get from Bad Ischl to Altaussee to make contact with the Americans
12th May, 1945: Kaltenbrunner is betrayed and arrested in a mountain cabin. Around this time, the once enthusiastic Nazi, Seibel, is denounced and loses his job. Meanwhile, prompted by some form of tip-off or information, in Bad Ischl, NSDP member Pöchmüller is abducted by members of the Salzberg resistance group and delivered to the Americans. In the process he is so roughed up that he loses six teeth and for a whole day is unable to stand. Of those knowledgable of both the mine and its contents, this leaves only Michael, Sieber and Eder, with Michael having everything to gain from both denouncments. Summarising what has been going on, around this time a staged photograph is taken which makes headlines in the American press. This shows Michael at the centre of a group of miners, with GI’s to his immediate right and left and with a clearly disgruntled Sieber also in the first row
13th May, 1945: the consignment at Bad Ischl is reported to the Americans and it is emphasised that, consisting of Austrian artefacts it ought to remain in Austria
16th May, 1945: Captain Robert Posey and Pcf. Lincoln Kirstein of the Monuments, Fine Art and Archives division (MFAA) arrive in Altaussee and initiate the clearing of the tunnels which they are told, will take two weeks
17th May, 1945: Posey and Kirstein crawl through a hole in the rubble and find a panel of the Ghent altarpiece and the Bruges Madonna
21st May, 1945: MFAA man, George Stout, arrives in Altaussee and from the catalogues sees that there are 6,577 paintings, 230 drawings, 954 graphic works, 137 sculptures, 128 pieces of arms and armour, 79 baskets of objects, 484 cases of objects thought to be archives, 78 pieces of furniture, 122 tapestries, an exact count of 181 boxes of books and posters, along with a further 1,200-1,700 boxes of the same and 283 diverse items. In addition there is a „very large number“ of uninventorised works. Stout confirms that the mine offers perfect storage conditions and that from a conservation point of view, there is no danger of damage. His job is to arrange and oversee the packaging and transportation of the collection to a central depot in Munich. For this Stout estimates that he will need a year. The Central Collecting Point (CCP) is housed in the „Führerhaus“ where Hitler lived when in Munich and the former NSPD buildings immediately nextdoor, with the two being linked by underground passages. Stout also conducts interviews with people involved with the mine, its contents and the events of its being saved and finds that discrepencies are rampant and points of consensus few and far between. In his diary he writes: „I am sick of all schemers, of all the vain crawling toads who now try to edge into positions of advantage and look for selfish gain or selfish glory from all this suffering“
5th June, 1945: prior to the dividing up of Austria and Germany into administrative zones, a line decided by the European Advisory Council months before in London, is to serve as a division between Allied and Russian forces. As the Allied forces are significantly East of the line, Stalin refuses to agree to a summit meeting or to any convention until this agreement is honoured. With Eisenhower’s approval, Truman orders that in Germany, the withdrawal is to begin on 21st June. Concerning Austria, he says that arrangements should be „left to local commanders“. This so-called „Presidential Directive“ means that although the mine at Altaussee has been saved from destruction, there is a very real danger of its contents falling into Soviet hands and being sent to Russia. As this danger is appreciated, it is argued that the American Army is in a trustee position and in the future will be held accountable for the fate of works of art currently in its possession and that looted and displaced cultural artefacts not belonging in Austria and Germany cannot simply be abandoned
15th June, 1945: the detonated tunnels of the mine are clear of rubble
16th June, 1945: the first convey of 8 trucks leaves Altaussee and arrives in Munich the next day
18th June, 1945: instructions are issued that displaced art and artefacts currently in American custody are to be moved back to the American Zone along with army material. As Stalin is occupied with Eastern Germany the date by which the Decree is to take effect is postponed to 1st July. Unaware of these looming and impossible deadlines, Stout records that only two truck loads have been loaded and that he is short of men
24th June, 1945: news of the Presidental Decree reaches Altausse and a race against time begins with Stout recording that the working day has been extended from 4 a.m. to 20 p.m. Logistics are difficult and communication is unreliable. There is a lack of trucks and those that are available break down. Packaging materials, food and billets are scarce and it rains. „All hands grumbling“
1st July, 1945: with no news on the administrative boundaries in Austria, Stout and his team continue working frantically
9th July, 1945: the administrative zones are agreed upon, with Altaussee falling under American administration so that there is no more danger of the art works falling into Soviet hands
10th July, 1945: Michangelo’s Bruges Madonna and Jan van Eyck’s The Adoration of the Lamb are loaded onto a truck and transported to Munich
13th July, 1945: the consignment at Bad Ischl is loaded onto four trucks and taken to Munich which arrive that evening. Apart from the Altdorfer altapiece and some of the Luchsperger sculptures, there are the two boxes of manuscripts from Göttweig as well as boxes and cassettes containing thousands of coins and medallions. The two boxes fron Göttweig receive the Munich Inventory Numbers, 4245, 4247 with further two digit numerals being appended thereafter to identify individual items. See dhm.de/datenbank/ccp and dhm.de/datenbank/ccp for the CCP „Property Cards“ assigned to each Göttweig item
19th July, 1945: at Altaussee Stout reports that in just under a month, 80 truckloads of 1,850 paintings, 1,441 cases of paintings and sculpture, 30 pieces of furniture and 34 large packages of textiles have been extracted and transferred to Munich
6th August, 1945: after over a year in Europe during which time he only took a day and a half off, Stout returns home on a steamer prior to a posting in Japan but work at Altaussee continues and in due course all non-Austrian items are transferred to Munich. From Munich art works are then systematically returned to their countries of origin, with it being left to the countries concerned, to return the works to their rightful owners
10th December, 1945: replacing Seibel, Eder is placed in charge of the Austrian art and artefacts remaining in the mine and is requested to draw up an inventory. Around this time, unsuccessful attempts are made at establishing the costs of the Eigruber’s „Vorsicht Marmor“ operation
January, 1946, the five boxes of artefacts from Krems Museum are recorded as being in the Springerwerk of the mine at Altaussee
25th April, 1946: in Munich the two boxes of manuscripts from Göttweig Abbey are handed over to the United States Forces in Austria (USFA) for delivery to the BDA in Kremsmunster
7th August, 1946: the three sculptures from Krems Museum are recorded as being deposited in the Lower Sacristry of the Parish Church at Bad Aussee, whilst the Luchsperger sculptures, consisting of apostles, an angel and a Madonna, are in the Hospice Church
16th October, 1946: in The Wiener Kurier, a newspaper published by the American occupying forces, the front page announces Göring’s sucide and the execution of nine prominent Nazis including Kaltenbrunner. Meanwhile page four reports that on 2nd October, 1946, six lorries of art and artefacts from the vicinity of Badaussee had left for Vienna, with the contents being delivered to the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Bundesdenkmal Amt (BDA) or State Monument Office, which is the new incarnation of the IDP
21st October, 1946: the Krems town councilor, Theresia Mahrer, who is responsible for culture and education asks the Kunsthisorisches Museum and the BDA whether among the six lorry-loads of artefacts, there are any works from Krems Museum and Göttweig Abbey
23rd November, 1946: Otto Demus, Director of the BDA, informs Mahrer that numerous works that were entrusted to the IDP are still in the mine at Altaussee. Demus points out that as the items from Göttweig were illegally acquired by Krems Museum through dispossion, the restoration of all items filed under the museum’s name is replete with complications
During the course of November, Michael, who prior to the annexation of Austria had been Director of the Natural History Museum in Vienna but was then demoted, returns to Vienna and having successfully staged himself as the saviour of Altaussee, is reinstated as director. Despite this coup, during the course of the next year, he is placed by the Ministry of Interior on the list of former Nazis with his NSPD membership and racist writings on ethnic differences providing undeniable evidence
17th May, 1947: the three sculptures in Bad Aussee and the five boxes from Krems in the Springerwerk, are listed in an inventory drawn up in Altaussee. With only Austrian artefacrts in the mine, there is time to examine things more closely and the inventory records that among the contents of the boxes there is a romanesque (actually twelfth century) sculpture of a bishop and a (Late) Gothic sculpture of Anna Selbdritt. This latter designation refers to a depiction of Saint Anna that shows her together with her daughter, the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus
28th May, 1947: Eigruber is executed
19th April, 1947: the Financial Directive of Lower Austria issues a decision of restitution of the two boxes of manuscripts that were dispossed from Göttweig Abbey
3rd June, 1948: the impounding of the Krems Museum and Göttweig Abbey items is lifted on the condition that the items from Göttweig are promptly returned to the re-founded monastery
22st June, 1948: in Altaussee, Bad Aussee and Kremsmunster the new councilor in Krems for culture and education, Fritz Dworschak, receives the five boxes and three sculptures aretfacts from Krems Museum along with the two boxes of manuscripts Göttweig Abbey, with the receipt noting in pencil that the Krems Museum sculptures were in Bad Aussee
23rd June, 1948: in Seitenstätten, the Göttweig manuscripts are entrusted, as requested by Göttweig Abbey, to the monastery at Seitenstetten
24th June, 1948: the sculpture Saint Vitus in a Vat returns to the Dominican Church and is once again on display
26th June, 1948: in a letter Dworschak thanks the BDA for their help and cooperation and extends thanks to the vicar of the Parish Church at Bad Aussee who also played a part in looking after the Krems sculptures. He adds that that the vicar is concerned about the Luchsperger statues that are still in the Hospice Church and which for effective security, should be returned to the cathedral in Wienerneustadt as soon as possible
1st July, 1948: under the Nazi regime, Altaussee had been made a part of Upper Austria and so had fallen under Eigruber’s control and equally under American jurisdiction, when it was agreed that Upper Austria was to be an American occupied zone. Ten years after the Annexation of Austria, Altausse was transferred back to the region of Styria to which it had originally belonged, whilst remaining under American juridiction even though Styria was a British occupied zone
During the course of 1948, Pöchmüler’s account of events at Altaussee, Weltkunstschätze in Gefahr, is published by Pallas Verlag, in Salzburg. In a forward written by Eder, the vericity of Pöchmüller’s version of events is confirmed. As a result of this, the Ministry for Education requests from Michael an account explaining the discrepencies between his own claims and those of Pöchmüller. After playing for time, Michael eventually delivers a patchy and inconsistent report. In 1951 he is suspended and the next year is sent into early retirement. Although Pöchmüler continues to fight to have his role at Altaussee recognised, his attempts are repeatedly blocked. This is due to the links between the Michael and the leader of the Salzberg resistance group, Albrecht Gaiswinkler, who from 1945 to 1949 was a socialist politician and who in 1947, published a book in which he claimed for himself a hugely exaggerated and largely ficticious role in preventing the destruction of the mine and art at Altaussee. Although Gaiswinkler was expelled from the Austrian Socialist Party in 1949, rehabilitating Pöchmüller would emphasise the discredited Michael and by association, the disrepute of his associate Gaiswinkler, with this in turn reflecting unfavourably on the socialist party. Equally however, as time goes by, Pöchmüller’s demands for compensation become increasingly unreasonable making it easier to ignore the facts of the injustices that he was made to suffer
27th October, 1951: the Göttweig manuscripts finally return to Göttweig
14th June, 1985: outside the main entrance to the mine at Altaussee, a specially commissioned relief of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners, is unveiled as a part celebrations commemorating the 40th anniversary of the saving of the mine and the priceless collection it once housed. Made according to a design by Irmgard Schlömmer, the sculpture was executed by the Rousek Stonemasony in Rottenmann and shows the Saint protecting threatened and endangered cultural property. The dedication reads: „Dedicated to the memory of the cultural property that was deposited and saved in the salt mine at Altaussee during the Second World War“, with the monument being set up at the initiation and expense of the Austrian Salt Working Company in Altaussee
1968: after twenty years in the Dominican Church, the sculpture Saint Vitus in a Vat is placed in storage whilst the Dominican Church is renovated and retored to its original state. This involves removing the partion walls and inbetween ceiling that had divided up the space and reinforcing the pillars that had become weakened through decades of rebuilding.
1971: as a part of the exhibition, 1000 Years of Art in Krems, Saint Vitus in a Vat is once again on display in the newly restored Dominican Church.
1994-1996: the cloister and a significant part of the cellars of the Dominican Monastery are re-furbished and adapted for display purposes by architecht, Franz Gschwandtner and in 1996, all the Krems Museum sculptures in the Church, including Saint Vitus in a Vat, are moved to the cloister
2012 the entrance to Krems Museum is redesigned by Franz Gschwandtner
2023: as the patron saint of the town, Saint Vitus in a Vat is moved from the cloister, to Room 2 of what is now Museum Krems where, along with a model of the town in the eighteenth century, it may be seen free of charge
The ultimate message of the Saint Vitus sculpture held by Museum Krems and of the Altaussee story, is that in order to do the right thing, somewhere along the line, some soul-searching must take place, for without genuine inner conviction, we are nothing. At Reloading Humanism, the 13,14,15 triangle is used as a symbol of how, in culture, following the example given by Piero della Francesca and the anonymous master of Saint Vitus in a Vat, the scientific and the mathematical must be combined with the artistic in ways that transcend the rational. This is because if we are to establish a balance between ourselves and the world around us, we must also find a balance between the sciences and the humanities and in ourselves, between the rational, the emotional and the intuitive. Only then can we create a sacred zone in which the rational, the emotional and the intuitive are combined so that, embracing ideals, we may strive to do right in an informed and enlightened manner and so have a chance of doing real good.
Anonymous, Verzeichnis der im Schloss Baumgarten eingelagerten Gegenstände des Archivs und Museums der Stadt Krems, 1943, Stadt Archiv Krems
Diverse authors, original documents from 1943-1948, BDA Archives, Departement for Provenance Research, Restitutionsmaterialen Kartons 22/1, 22/2, 22/3 (Bergungsort Altaussee), Restitutionsmaterialen Karton 19 (Klöster: Stift Göttweig)
Maximillian Eder, Die Kunstgutbergsaktion Salzbergwerk, Altaussee – kurzer Bericht über deren Anfänge und Verlauf bis Eintreffen der US-Truppen, am 8. Mai, 1945, eye-witness report held by the Dokumentationsarkiv des österreichischen Widerstandes (DÖW)
Albrecht Gaiswinkler, Sprung in die Freiheit, Riedl Verlag, Vienna/Salzburg, 1947
Emmerich Pöchmüller, Weltkunstschätze in Gefahr, Pallas Verlag, Salzburg, 1948
Irmgard Schlömmer, Steinmetz Rousek and others, Dokumente zur Brunnenanlage, Archiv der Saltzwelten AG, Hallstatt
Christian Reder, Zeitgeschichte – ein Beitrag zum Abbau von tauben Gestein: im Salzbergwerk, in Ausseer Beiträge zur Zeit- und Kulturgeschichte, Steirisches Institut für Zeitgeschichte Bad Aussee, Bad Aussee, 1985
Lynn Nicholas, The Rape of Europa, Vintage Books, New York, 1995. A highly readable but nevertheless scholarly reference book that details the art-looting and dispossession programms run by the Nazis and tells the story of the setting up of the MFAA and its activities in Europe
Eva Frodl-Kraft, Gefährdetes Erbe: Österreichs Denkmalschutz und Denkmal Pflege 1018-1945 im Prisma der Zeitgeschichte, Volume 16. Included is: Theodor Brückler, Gefährdung und Rettung der Kunstschätze: Versuch einer kritischen Rekonstruktion. Studien zu Denkmalschutz und Denkmalpflege, Böhlau, Vienna, 1997
Robert Edsel, Monuments Men, Center Street, New York, 2009. This work of faction, based on and inspired by The Rape of Europa, tells the interwoven stories of a number of MFAA people, with a series of sensational discoveries leading towards a culmination at Altaussee
Konrad Kramar, Mission Michangelo, Residenz Verlag, Vienna, 2013. This reference book written for a general readership begins with the Nazi art-looting and dispossession programms and examines the Austria reports, memoirs and eye-witness accounts of events at Altaussee during the last weeks of the war
Monuments Men, a Hollywood film derived from the book of the same name with a star-studded cast and direction by George Clooney, Columbia Pictures and Babelsberg Film Studio, Hollywood/Potsdam-Babelsberg, 2014
Die moderne Niebelungen salzen ihre Schätze ein .., Anneliese Schallmeiner, in Bergung von Kulturgut in Nationalsozialismus, Mythen – Hintergründe – Auswirkungen, Pia Schölnberger and Sabine Loitfellner (Ed.), Kommission für Provenenzforschung, Böhlau Verlag, Vienna, 2016
Ein Dorf wehrt sich: das Geheimnis von Altaussee, directed by Gabriele Zerhau, Mona Film/Hager Moss Film, 2019. This Austria/German film was produced for television and tells the Altaussee story from the point of view of local protagonists
Bernhard Rameder, Göttweiger Bücher in Salzbergwerk. Die Bergung der Göttweiger Handschriftensammlung während des Zweiten Weltkriegs in Salzbergwerk Altaussee in Von Schreiben und Sammeln, Einblicke in die Göttweiger Biblioteks Geschichte, Astrid Breith (Ed.), Studien und Forschungen aus dem Niederösterreichischen Institut für Landeskunde Volume 74, Verlag NÖ Institut für Landkunde, St. Pölten, 2021
Salzwelten GmbH., Via Salis, ein kultur- und industriegeschichtlice Rundweg durch Altaussee, Salzwelten GmbH., Salzbergerstraße 21, Hallstatt, 2022
The Altaussee Saltmine can be visited and deep inside the mountain, there is an exhibition that includes a plaster cast of Michangelo’s Brugges Madonna. In July and August there are tours with a specific focus on the mine’s dramatic role in art history. See: www.salzwelten.at